Working for Diaghilev

15 October 2004

Sergei Diaghilev (1872 -1929) was one of the greatest artistic innovators in the last century. He was the first to bring together visual artists and composers and choreographers for the purpose of creating theatrical Gesamtkunstwerken for the general public. In total, the exhibition will display 230 paintings, décor and costume designs, drawings, and costumes that illustrate Diaghilev’s apparently infinite artistic world of ideas. The Working for Diaghilev exhibition presents work by Picasso, Matisse, de Chirico, Bakst, Benois, Golovin, Serov, Vrubel, Gontcharova, and Larionov, among others, and will run in the Groninger Museum from 11 December 2004 to 28 March 2005.

Diaghilev’s most important achievements in the realm of visual art began in 1898 with the founding of Mir Iskusstva, which soon became the major art journal in Russia at that time. Diaghilev would continue to supervise the journal until its discontinuation in 1904. He gathered a large group of visual artists to supply material for his journal, and he presented their work in the many exhibitions he organized in St Petersburg and later in Paris.

Work by many of these artists will be on show in Groningen, including paintings by the brilliant Mikhail Vrubel, who developed a completely original visual language which astonished the general public then, and will probably do so again. Valentin Serov was an artistic child prodigy who became a pupil of Ilya Repin at the age of six. Diaghilev’s friends Alexandre Benois, Konstantin Somov, and Leon Bakst are also well represented. They were the ones who jointly devised the concepts by means of which, in Paris, Diaghilev would later radically change the world of ballet.

When Diaghilev began to produce Russian opera’s and ballet performances in Paris from 1909 onward, he not only imported the music, dancers, artists, décors, and costumes, but also the unique co-operative structures within which the Russian artists worked. The Ballets Russes were an unprecedented success. The décors and costumes by Leon Bakst, Alexander Golovin, and Valentin Serov thrilled the pampered Parisian public. In all aspects, the Russians re-animated the world of dance and made it the platform of great artistic innovation. When Diaghilev also began to gather Western artists around him, he also inspired them to work intensively with artists from other disciplines. Composers such as Debussy, Ravel and de Falla collaborated with artists such as Picasso, Matisse and de Chirico, and with authors such as Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide. The Russian experiments with Gesamtkunstwerken that were performed in St Petersburg from 1890 onward turned out to be a model for the great innovations in Paris in the 1910s and 1920s.

The Working for Diaghilev exhibition indicates that the influence of the St Petersburg setting upon the artistic developments in Paris was much more significant than is often recognized. Accordingly, much attention is paid to the artists from Diaghilev’s Russian period and to the Russian artists of the Ballets Russes.

Works on loan
Never before has the Museum received so many works on loan from international museums, including major loans from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. By far the most works on loan have come from Moscow. The State Tretyakov Gallery has generously lent out more than 80 works from its rich and fascinating collection. This is the largest collection of works on loan that the Groninger Museum has ever received.

Sjeng Scheijen is the compiler of the exhibition, Patty Wageman is the producer.

The Diaghilev Festival (26 January to 30 January 2005) Diaghilev’s artistic legacy is only truly complete with the addition of music and ballet. For this reason, besides the exhibition, the Diaghilev Festival has also been organized, with contributions from the most prestigious ballet and music companies in the world.

For special activities in the Museum, such as film, lectures, music, theatre and education, please consult our website.

The exhibition could only be realized thanks to a generous contribution from the Stichting Fondsbeheer Culturele Relatie-evenementen Gasunie (GasUnie Foundation for Cultural-relationship events)

The AVRO Klassiek broadcasting station is the media partner.

For additional information: Josee Selbach,, Rixt Horstmann,, +31 (0)50-3666555,